GAMING: A Look “INSIDE”

avatar-brandonReleased back in 2010, LIMBO – the first title from Playdead, a tiny Danish game company made up of eight extremely talented developers) – was an enormous success! However, LIMBO was not just a big deal for Playdead; it was also hugely important for indie games in general, as it helped usher in a flood of independent game development.

Yet even with the pressures of LIMBO‘s success, Playdead remained mostly silent, focusing their energy internally on a follow-up that would soon show that LIMBO was no fluke. The recent critical success of INSIDE has shown that Playdead is one of the most capable independent developers in the industry.

INSIDE is a natural evolution of both the aesthetics and game mechanics originally introduced in LIMBO. The macabre environments and systems carry over from the previous title, but with INSIDE, everything speaks with intent and realized vision. Each pixel is perfectly placed, helping to cohesively present a world filled with striking amounts of context.

This context is delivered wordlessly as you progress through the mysteries of this grim world. Once again, the game sees you controlling a meek child as he traverses a garish landscape, but the presentation of this control far surpasses that of Playdead’s previous title. The child is so well animated that every motion has weight; this grabs you and pulls you into the environment in a way that LIMBO was simply unable to do. The world here feels very real and lived in, and every moment supports this feeling of handcrafted perfection just as every scene reinforces the game’s overall themes.

INSIDE also improves upon LIMBO‘s mechanics by almost entirely removing the precursor’s “trial-and-error” style of gameplay. No longer will you be forced to die repeatedly as you gradually learn how to progress through the obstacle course of dangers that await you, although those dangers remain ever-present. That mechanic is replaced with a far more interesting design choice; interaction with objects in the environment is entirely seamless. You may well walk right past items of importance, assuming they cannot be manipulated, simply because no game has ever implemented puzzles using this method before. The execution of these seamless puzzles should be lauded, and will undoubtedly be aped by many future games.

INSIDE‘s storyline is just as impressive as LIMBO‘s, and equally sparse. You are given little in the way of information and much needs to be inferred. If this form of storytelling is not up your alley, INSIDE may not be for you. For others, there is real meat to these storied bones once you dig in. Prepare to be presented with some deep existential themes which may leave you thinking well beyond the end credits.

While INSIDE may not be for everyone, the game is a perfectly-crafted experience. It is clear why this brief two- to three-hour experience took Playdead a full six years to design. INSIDE should not be missed.

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INSIDE is available now on Windows 7/8/10 and Xbox One.

GAMING: G2V at GenCon 2016 – Saturday Round-Up

avatar-scottwoodardmeavatarjessAs we prepare to head into the last day of GenCon 2016, the G2V Guys bring you this special audio round-up of all the activity they’ve seen at the show so far, including a conversation recorded by the guys Saturday, as well as an interview with SURVIVE THE HORDE‘s Evan Johnson, recorded Friday on the floor of the con!

Below, you can also see some pictures from the day’s big CINEMA AND SORCERY: THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO FANTASY FILM book signing at the Green Ronin booth (#1421), and much more besides! And read on for info on where to find the guys tomorrow!

The big moment has arrived!  Photo by Scott Alan Woodard
The big moment has arrived!
Photo by Scott Alan Woodard
Two happy authors with their elegant tome! Photo by Natalie B. Litofsky
Two happy authors with their elegant tome!
Photo by Natalie B. Litofsky
Scott puts his moniker on the title page of CINEMA AND SORCERY. Photo by Natalie B. Litofsky
Scott puts his moniker on the title page of CINEMA AND SORCERY.
Photo by Natalie B. Litofsky
Arnold and Scott are visited at their signing by Geek & Sundry's Ivan Van Norman, also of Outbreak: Undead fame! Photo by Natalie B. Litofsky
Arnold and Scott are visited at their signing by Geek & Sundry’s Ivan Van Norman, also of Outbreak: Undead fame!
Photo by Natalie B. Litofsky
Watch out, it's the astonishing Ant-Man! Or a reasonable facsimile. Photo by Natalie B. Litofsky
Watch out, it’s the astonishing Ant-Man! Or a reasonable facsimile.
Photo by Natalie B. Litofsky
When at GenCon, resistance is futile! Photo by Natalie B. Litofsky
When at GenCon, resistance is futile!
Photo by Natalie B. Litofsky
Coasters and a magnet from Dapper Devil, and a zombie card game from Asmodee! Photo by Arnold T. Blumberg
Coasters and a magnet from Dapper Devil, and a zombie card game from Asmodee!
Photo by Arnold T. Blumberg

For those of you that are actually at the con, Scott and Arnold will be back tomorrow at 2pm for one last signing of CINEMA AND SORCERY, so come by the Green Ronin booth (map below) to see them and get a signed book!

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GAMING: G2V at GenCon 2016 Day 1 (well, 2, but who’s counting)

avatar-scottwoodardmeavatarjessJust a quick post tonight, but the G2V Guys united on the floor of GenCon 2016 in anticipation of their big Green Ronin CINEMA AND SORCERY: THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO FANTASY FILM book signing on Saturday at 2pm!

But first, it was time to take a turn around the floor and meet some folks, including a chat with the makers of the SURVIVE THE HORDE zombie card game (we’ll be sharing a short interview with Evan Johnson from that team tomorrow), Dom Zook and the SAVING THROW SHOW team, and of course a stop at the Green Ronin booth!

The GenCon floor is full of surprises, but who would expect to find Jack Burton’s rig, the Pork-Chop Express from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, parked in the middle of the con? Good thing the guys included a chapter on that very movie in the book!

An encounter with the team from the new game SURVIVE THE HORDE resulted in the Doctor of the Dead being immortalized as a zombie!

And he wasn’t the only one deteriorating through the day. Look at this poor GenCon attendee; guess he forgot to hydrate…

A good day was had by all, and the guys wound things down with one more photo op!

We’ll have plenty more from day one and the rest of the weekend right here! And if you’re at the con this weekend, see the guys tomorrow at 2pm at the Green Ronin/Geek & Sundry booth 1421 (map below) and pick up a signed copy of CINEMA AND SORCERY: THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO FANTASY FILM! Plus:

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Train to Busan (2016)

THE PATIENTS

Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Writer: Sang-ho Yeon
Starring: Yoo Gong, Dong-seok Ma, Woo-sik Choi

THE PATHOLOGY

An overworked fund manager takes his daughter by train to visit her estranged mother, only for them to get caught up in a zombie apocalypse as a viral outbreak turns nearly everyone into hyperkinetic bite-happy maniacs. Can a group of diverse train passengers band together to make it to the end of the line…alive?

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THE PROGNOSIS

This is director Sang-ho Yeon’s first live-action production, having worked in animation to this point; in fact, he returns to that format for a prequel to TRAIN that sets up the apocalypse seen in the film. SEOUL STATION arrives in August, and I for one cannot wait to see this world expanded in that new chapter. And why? Because this is quality epic summer blockbuster storytelling, with a pitch-perfect mix of strong characterization, thrilling set pieces, deft emotional touches, and polished camera work. While I don’t feel it’s always warranted to compare a film to another (that’s too easy a trap to fall into, praising one thing by denigrating another), I did find myself thinking of WORLD WAR Z quite a bit. And at the risk of falling into precisely that trap, I’ll note that the difference between the two is that TRAIN TO BUSAN is very good indeed.

The standout performance comes from Dong-seok Ma as a working class husband with a baby on the way and a heroic heart of gold, whose natural ability to care for others enables him to teach our hero a lesson in empathy. But truly everyone in the cast is superb and makes you instantly care about them (or, in the case of one character, feel an appropriate level of loathing for him). From teen lovers to aging sisters, there’s a satisfying range of backgrounds and personalities thrown together in the midst of tragedy, and yes, you will feel some losses like stabs in the heart – a tribute to all involved in this production.

You will feel some losses like stabs in the heart – a tribute to all involved in this production.

As for the zombies themselves, the makeup effects are excellent if not too elaborate, and the related CGI is similarly very effective except very briefly in one key scene set in a train station. Behaviorally, they’re an intriguing blend of Western and Asian tropes, with their jerking, body-bending, frenetic movements and hissing attacks familiar from Asian horror while their swarming behavior is very reminiscent of the aforementioned WORLD WAR Z. They are reanimated running zombies but not flesh-eaters per se, as they only seem interested in biting just enough to spread the infection but don’t consume their victims. The most intriguing element is their disproportionate reliance on sight as a means of identifying victims. Although they also respond to sound and movement, staying out of sight is the primary way to defeat them, leading to some very clever strategic gambits on the part of our heroes to evade danger.

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If I had any criticisms, they’re minor. Perhaps the only one worth noting at all concerns the opening gag in which we first see the zombie effect take hold via a reanimated deer (an identical bit is also seen in SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE). This scene promises a subplot that never materializes, since we never see any zombie animals again. Something involving, say, an infected pet on the train might have added another dimension to the already excellent proceedings, but then again, why worry about what might have been? There’s so much here that works well, zombie pet or no zombie pet.

Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is not just that it fully and capably embraces the genre’s use of a zombie apocalypse to reflect meaningfully on human nature, but that it does so at a time when its specific message could not be more important or impactful. The primary villain in this movie is a self-interested narcissistic businessman that sees all other human beings as pawns, manipulating them through ignorance and sowing fear, then throwing them to the wolves as he seeks to protect his own worthless existence. As for the heroes, they only manage to save those they love by exhibiting empathy and recognizing that they are #StrongerTogether.

The heroes only manage to save those they love by exhibiting empathy and recognizing that they are #StrongerTogether.

And when the propulsive music kicks in and our last few survivors try to ride a train engine to an uncertain future while a growing horde of zombies begin to drag behind it, I defy anyone not to feel their pulse pounding. This is excellent action-packed movie-making that American film makers could learn from, but I’d be happy just to see more Korean movies make their way into our theaters…especially zombie movies!

RATING

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GAMING: Making Saving Throws with Producer Dom Zook

avatar-scottwoodardsav·ing throw (sā′vĭng thrō)
n.
1. In DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, a saving throw is an attempt to resist a spell, a trap, a poison, a disease, or a similar threat through the roll of a d20.

2. A group of players and GMs who, through a shared passion of RPGs and filmmaking, have banded together to create RPG content that we as fans would want to see.

The last few years have proven to be quite the renaissance for tabletop roleplaying games! While Wizards of the Coast stumbled a bit with the fourth edition of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (although I still think it’s a solid design, but YMMV), the latest iteration of the game has proven to be a stupendous success, currently ranked as the best-selling RPG on the market and outselling former juggernaut PATHFINDER (Paizo Publishing) by a wide margin!

As an off-shoot of this terrific hobby, a number of sites, blogs, webseries, and live-streaming game channels have popped up, and truly one of the best is the SAVING THROW SHOW created by filmmaker and gamer Dom Zook. We recently caught up with Dom to find out more about SAVING THROW and what they have in store for the upcoming GenCon 2016 event in Indianapolis, Indiana!

G2V: Dom, I know you’re busy as all get -ut prepping for GenCon, but thanks for taking some time out to chat with us. Can you give us a little history of SAVING THROW? When and how did it all come together?
Dom Zook: SAVING THROW began in 2013 when Tyler Rhoades, Ben Dunn, and I began playing D&D again. As Ben had never played before, and Tyler and I were a few years from our heyday, we went searching for some cohesive tutorials online. Nothing really fit the bill, so we decided to produce our own! First, we made eight episodes of a PATHFINDER tutorial covering the basics. From there we began playing in livestreamed games, playing everything from PATHFINDER to D&D, CALL OF CTHULHU, and STAR WARS. Now we stream five days a week on Twitch and YouTube, with more shows being added all the time!

Can you share any plans for the future of SAVING THROW?
We’re very excited to announce a new series starting Saturday, August 6th at 5pm PDT, exploring the brand new PHOENIX DAWN COMMAND game by veteran designer Keith (GLOOM, EBERRON) Baker. We’ll also be producing an exclusive tutorial series of this system. We’re looking to expand our slate of shows to add more tutorial content and really get back to our roots. Additionally, we’re releasing an album of songs that Amy Vorpahl has written and produced with the help of amazing musician Maxi Morales out of Brazil. Lots of the classic songs from BARKY’S BRIGADE will be on the album. That’s hitting this Fall!

If you had unlimited resources, what would you love to do with SAVING THROW? And if that means a BARKY’S BRIGADE feature film, what would be your dream cast (and I guess we’ll just assume that Amy would be playing the part of Arqe Barky)?
Oh man! When Tyler, Ben, and I initially concepted SAVING THROW, our intention was to edit together the final gameplay into a live-action event with interspersed scripted dialogue to tie things together. I’d still love to go back and tell the BARKY’S story that way. As for casting a movie, I can’t imagine anyone other than our players playing their own characters, but a part of me would love to see Christophe Waltz as Udo Meinhardt!

That’s one casting choice I think we could all get behind! So what is the current schedule for SAVING THROW and where can people watch?
The whole schedule can be found online, or just log in to our Twitch channel to see this week’s line-up and to watch! We also stream to YouTube, so there are a number of ways to catch us!

You guys have some big plans for this year’s GenCon; can you tell us more about them?
This is the largest contingent of Saving Throwers that we’ve sent to GenCon. Not only will I be there, but Tom Lommel (GM of Monday Night DUNGEON FIGHT, and Udo Meinhardt from BARKY’S BRIGADE), Amy Vorpahl (Arqe Barky herself), Tyler Rhoades (Jopper Grow from BARKY’S and producer), Gaurav Gulati (Ruckus P. Fizzlebottom from BARKY’S, Grango from NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS and editor extraordinaire), GM Mason McDaniel (GM of BARKY’S BRIGADE), Shawn Graham (GM of our DARK SUN series, and Donovan Belter from BARKY’S), and Ben Dunn (Thad from BLACK BAG, and host of our PATHFINDER tutorial) will all be there as well!

13653191_1156411381090023_1601904507932852572_oWe’ll also be playing in a live recorded BARKY’S BRIGADE show on Saturday at 6pm in the Westin Grand Ballroom V. It will be similar to our livestreamed shows; in this version, the audience will be able to influence our game! We’ll be giving out tokens and sheets of paper that will play a very important part in the game, and you can get official Barky Bucks (designed by @d20monkey), which you can exchange for tokens! Basically we’re bringing the normal stream show to an IRL audience. It’s going to be a blast, and you can buy tickets for only $2! Steal. 

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Thank you so much, Dom, and best of luck with SAVING THROW! We look forward to meeting up with the whole gang at GenCon!
See you there!

Find SAVING THROW on Twitter and Facebook!